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50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

September 4, 2013

Susie Headshot50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a courageous group of civil rights leaders to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial here in Washington, D.C. and delivered his now internationally known “I Have a Dream” speech. Last month, the nation and the world tuned in to commemorate that seminal moment in human rights history. And I nervously held my breath to see if the disability community would included in this historical moment as I have seen occasionally happen in the past in the in the civil rights movement.

This was a special moment for African Americans around the country and their painful and sometimes deadly struggle. In the past years I have heard countless stirring speeches from civil rights leaders in which they include people of every race, religion and sexual orientation in their struggle for equal rights, and yet no mention is made of persons with disabilities. I was heartened when I heard that the organizers were emphasizing the original 1963 title of the march, “The March for Jobs and Freedom,” because how could you leave a group of people with a 70% unemployment rate and the majority living below the poverty line out of a march like that?

Disability was mentioned in a number of speeches, including by AAPD Chairman Maahs in making a plea for the CRPD. But the moment I savored most was when Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, said, “Since that time, as a result of the civil rights agent of 1964, the voting rights act of 1965 and the fair housing act in 1968, we have witnessed great strides toward freedom for all, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, class or sexual orientation.” (Click here to read a transcript of her whole speech.)

I rejoiced as did my friends who were keeping score on Facebook! We were listed by one of the grassroots civil rights leaders! And to complete the jubilation, the President went on to include us in his final speech. Kudos to his administration for making this event inclusive. But especially thank you to Ms. King for showing that the next generation of civil rights activists can recognize how much we have struggled.

And isn’t that what we have been fighting for all these years? Isn’t that what we are now taking to the rest of the world with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? What we want is inclusion in the national and international discussion on human rights. So lead on, you tireless disability rights advocates! We are being heard—or at least translated by the ASL interpreters standing right next to them.

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